Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Year

Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly.

Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year and no one, not even Julia's boyfriend knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can't mourn Julia openly, and he's tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia's journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he's desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?

I've had The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard for some time now. And since I'm meeting her at PAYA this month, I wanted to have read this one. Everyone I talked to loved this book, so I had high expectations for it. I was excited to dive in. But... it left me underwhelmed.

The story is told in first person, from a male POV. Something that doesn't happen often enough in YA. The book begins with Colt finding out that Julia died. His best friend tells him, but even she doesn't know about Colt and Julia. Colt's family lives in The Flats, a poor neighborhood while Julia's family lives on Black Mountain. She's rich and popular and attends parties at the country club. She has a boyfriend in a similar situation, and then she meets Colt. There is an instant connection between the two, and they begin meeting weekly.

Julia's death hits Colt hard. And it's even harder when Julia's brother gives Colt a journal filled with letters written to him. Her family and friends mourn her loss, but Colt has to pretend he doesn't even really know her. I had a hard time connecting with Colt and Julia. Even though Julia isn't even in the book, except for flashbacks, she is a very big part of the story.

I know it says in the synopsis that Julia has a boyfriend, but I somehow managed to miss that detail until I started the book. We know through Julia's journal that she keeps promising to dump Austin, but never quite manages. This bugged me more than I can really say. When we're talking about characters in books or on television, there are very few things that I just can't forgive. Cheating is one of those things.

I had expected Julia and Colt's story to be full of love and happiness and the secrecy made it interesting. But, instead, it made me dislike the characters. Cheating implies lying and sneaking around and being dishonest. Whether the couple is a long-time married couple, or a couple of teens who've been together for several months, cheating is cheating. If reading about a relationship that is based on lies and cheating doesn't bother you, you may really enjoy The Secret Year. But it wasn't for me. I'm glad I read it, since it's something that so many people I know have read and enjoyed, but it most likely won't be a re-read.

The cover I have is the first one. It's the original cover. My favorite cover is the second picture, but it feels very misleading. It looks more like the sweet romance that I was hoping for. And the third cover... I think this one fits the best.


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